6/27/2022
The Last One

The Last One

Told through repeated refrains like a prayer recital or affirmation, this is a fast, lyrical read. Each short chapter finds narrator Fatima, French of Algerian descent, examining the different, often conflicting, layers of her identity and the rules structuring her world – her faith, sexuality and family. Fatima’s generous honesty carries us with her, and makes for a sometimes abrasive, exhilarating and enlightening sharing of experience.

6/20/2022
Address Book

Address Book

This book is one of the most tender and warm I have read in ages. Seven different people in different periods from 1891 to 2021 - it’s life-affirming, accepting and erotic even when dealing with grief. Quietly brilliant – and you’ll never take a mattress for granted again.

6/13/2022
Winchelsea

Winchelsea

This novel has all the ingredients of a swashbuckling tale of smuggling and conspiracy with a twist. Diamonds in the rough, flashing swords and smoking muskets, romances and a rather surprising main character. I got a kick from the atmosphere and the action.

6/6/2022
The Transformation

The Transformation

Reading this book is like walking into a mighty and overwhelming landscape. It also made me very, very frozen. But soon, glimpses of hope and warmth and love come through, tiny and not easily achieved. Navarana, a young Inuit girl, has the spirit of an ice bear, her strength from the old religion and a helper in a gentle Irish monk. But can she save a way of life?

5/30/2022
Wretchedness

Wretchedness

A heart-stopping and head-scratching dizzying array of voices and timelines, submerged in pain, addiction and desperation. In dense, chapter-length paragraphs the language clashes and trembles with unremitting bleakness. An uncomfortable howl of defiance from the neglected, abused and voiceless, but despite the gritty storyline, the language is almost musical and the story mesmerising.

5/23/2022
Doggerland

Doggerland

Set in an unspecified future, on a vast, corroding windfarm far out in the North Sea, this is a poetic, claustrophobic read. Above sea-level, we follow the storm-blasted routines of the boy and the old man, maintenance workers imprisoned by wind turbines and each other. Below the surface, the book plays out on a different timeline, elegantly charting geological periods and the fluidity of landmass. The result is affecting and quietly profound.

5/16/2022
Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People

Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People

A novel for readers who like a challenge. It certainly asked a lot of me. The witty intervals reminded me of the stand up comedy of ‘Live at the Apollo’ and made this fat brick of a satire of modern Nigeria more than worth the effort. Like the discussion about a new name for the Minister. Or the fantastic abbreviations for everything. But it’s a complex story which also criticizes political corruption, child abuse and self interest.

5/9/2022
Three Rooms

Three Rooms

What at first appears to be a novel about the problems of a self-involved millennial, slowly becomes a novel about politics, class, race and privilege. This was a story that knew exactly how to push my buttons, candidly observed and feeling very true to life. Certainly a book which will divide opinion, but I found myself rooting for this young woman of colour, striving to find her place.

5/2/2022
Captain Jesus

Captain Jesus

Marie the teenager and Marie the wife and mother links the two strands of this story of how ordinary people cope with great loss. The more recent strand is narrated by one of the children as he tries to understand what is going on in the adult world. This book gains in intensity as the two stories are pulled closer together. A powerful mix of the everyday and the tragic, you will be drawn into this family making small steps towards recovery.

4/25/2022
Recursion

Recursion

If you could change your past, would you? That's the question at the heart of this rip-roaring speculative novel exploring memory, grief, consequences and death. Just when you think you have a grip on the story it suddenly confounds as you hurtle towards another disaster, leaving you wondering just how are the characters going to escape. A breathless and breath-taking read that will have you racing through the pages.

4/18/2022
Foolish Heroines

Foolish Heroines

This bizarre story combining domestic drama with a liberal sprinkling of magical realism makes for an entertaining read. Following a disparate group of women as they embark on journeys of discovery, empowerment and friendship, it yanks the reader into their lives and any resistance soon becomes futile. Absurd though it may be, it is also funny, uplifting and refreshingly different. By the end of the book I too felt like I was one of the gang.

4/11/2022
Betty

Betty

Heartbreaking, but what a brave girl Betty is. She doesn’t let her life be ruined by her strong, but scarred mother, or her schoolmates who call her names because of her Native American heritage. I found it shocking how in the sixties even teachers treat her abominably. Luckily she has a loving Cherokee father who teaches her all about respect for nature, and she has her siblings - who are firmly on her side. A beautiful coming-of-age story.

4/4/2022
Supper Club

Supper Club

Discomforting with delicious morsels, this coming of age novel is set across two formative times from protagonist Roberta’s life: the abusive, domineering relationships she experiences with men as an undergraduate, and self-assertion through food and friendship in her late twenties. Cusp-of-adulthood millennial uncertainty finds release in the physically evocative food writing. A searching, hedonistically appetising read.

3/28/2022
Cwen

Cwen

This earthy magical and cleverly woven tale is interspersed with historical facts and mythologies. It is a gutsy read laced with literary references to environmental and feminist concerns. Radical and bold it tells with intensity of a disappearance and uses court transcripts from the investigation to reveal a cast of diverse women who are driven to develop a new and more meaningful community. It's a unique reimagining of how our world could be.

3/21/2022
Leave the World Behind

Leave the World Behind

A compelling read, fuelled by uncertainty and a multiplying sense of dread, this is end of the world via Airbnb. A family from Brooklyn hope to spend a week getting away from it all in a remote Long Island holiday home when an unnamed, unknown, cataclysmic event occurs. Smartphones remain dead, and in the resulting void of information, unease shifts to terror. A seductive nightmare of a book, both surreal and disturbingly plausible.

3/14/2022
Easy Meat

Easy Meat

This is a gritty snapshot of a young Welshman's desire to overcome barriers and change himself for the better. I empathised with his struggles and frustrations, grimacing as another challenge dragged him down, but cheered as he found a way to pull himself through. A brief and unflinching slice of Valley life with a unique voice.

3/7/2022
Femlandia

Femlandia

When society dissolves Miranda and her teenage daughter must abandon their previous existence and find a way to survive. As the sanctuary they find at a women’s commune grows increasingly uneasy, I found a dreadful fascination in the sinister atmosphere. This is a tense, provocative read which explores feminism, motherhood, belonging and power.

2/28/2022
The Memory Police

The Memory Police

Told by an unnamed narrator, and taking place on a remote island, this dystopian fable is both generously accessible and beguilingly enigmatic. Despite the title suggesting otherwise, the focus of the book is the personal, physical experience of oppression and loss, rather than the machinations of the totalitarian Memory Police. Breathtakingly beautiful even at its most hauntingly destructive, this gently shattering read is unforgettable.

2/21/2022
Exit Management

Exit Management

A book that will grasp you in its cold grip. Controlling Lauren, determined to succeed but haunted by her past, meets Cal, a loser drifting through life with only his friendship with elderly Jozsef to keep him going. There’s an unease in the dark beauty of the language, the fragmented sentences and unpunctuated dialogue, though the book is not without hope and compassion. An emotionally thrilling and psychologically probing read.

2/14/2022
A Long Way from Douala

A Long Way from Douala

I found this book to be a compassionate coming-of-age journey through a richly described Cameroon. I enjoyed reading about a whole host of colourful characters from grief-stricken parents to corrupt police and shady people smugglers. I felt the ever-present threat of Boko Haram but laughed at the developing relationship between two friends as they navigate through a country in turmoil and search for their runaway brother.

2/7/2022
Night Theatre

Night Theatre

This gripping and tense novel is beautifully written and kept me engaged throughout. While the plot driver might be fantastical - a murdered family returns from the afterlife and has one night for a surgeon to heal their wounds - this story is grounded in reality. The exasperation of the surgeon at his limited equipment and the desperation of the parents wishing to save their children had me racing through to the end.

1/31/2022
The Stubborn Archivist

The Stubborn Archivist

The book’s Stubborn Archivist is a young woman born into a mix of cultures and trying to work out her identity. I loved the beautifully written prose and jumping between time periods and perspectives of characters, in new and unfamiliar surroundings, kept the pace moving swiftly along. An enjoyable and insightful read.

1/24/2022
Memorial

Memorial

When a crisis throws them apart, two men at a crossroads in their relationship reflect on their lives and dysfunctional relationships with their respective families. Both wise in its reflectiveness and unsettling in the lack of answers it provides, this is authentic, contemporary storytelling, told with stunning honestly, wry humour and frank, uncompromising use of language.

1/17/2022
The Mermaid and the Conch

The Mermaid and the Conch

Told through multiple voices, this is a story of human emotion, intertwined with indigenous myth and more recent, very real, history, where the arrival of mermaid Aycayia to the island of Black Conch is the catalyst for some monumental changes. For all the pain and loneliness of the book, I found it was the sense of connection and potential for positive change that Aycayia sets in motion that stayed with me. A sensual, hypnotic and riveting read.

1/10/2022
Good Citizens Need Not Fear

Good Citizens Need Not Fear

The crumbling of the Soviet Union is reflected in the the decaying tower blocks of the Ukraine, but this is no grim slice-of-realism record. You know from the start that these lovable characters will win through with gritty determination in spite of the black absurdities of their circumstances. Just a few small episodes in their lives have enough authenticity and emotion to fill your soul.

1/3/2022
Afterlives

Afterlives

In a largely forgotten theatre of war, this powerful and epic account of brutal oppression during the German Colonial campaigns in East Africa weaves history and fictional characters in an intricate tapestry. The deeply personal stories of the resilience of the uprooted and exploited African people balance the more journalistic style used to describe the disturbing scenes of atrocities and reprisals. Beautiful, sad and unforgettable.

12/27/2021
After Beth

After Beth

This story of ‘a mother’s worst nightmare’ will wrench at the guts of any parent. I was impressed by the author’s skill in writing so movingly about bereavement without the least cloying or maudlin sentiment. It is not a depressing read, despite the subject, and I am sure that reading about how the mother gets through the stages of grief could be a consoling process for someone going through a similar experience.

12/20/2021
Midnight at Malabar House

Midnight at Malabar House

Persis Wadia, India's first woman police officer in 1950 (a little advance of reality) is a strong, warm and funny character, determined to prove her professionalism. I really enjoyed this classic murder mystery. As well as a great plot, it has real depth in the setting - the politics of independence, the last of the Brits still in India and the trauma of Partition.

12/13/2021
Listening Still

Listening Still

This is a tender and gentle read set in small town Ireland and a young woman who can talk with the dead. Jeanie’s life is thrown into confusion when her parents suddenly decide to retire. Where does this leave her? I could easily identify with Jeanie’s struggle. She leads a life full of doubt and sacrifice, and fears to lose it all. But she is a strong, loving character and I was rooting for her throughout.

12/6/2021
The Warlow Experiment

The Warlow Experiment

An intense claustrophobic and uneasy fascination surround the hook of this story - a kind of extreme English country house upstairs/downstairs narrative. Class struggle, power subversion and obsession stalk the floors of Moreham House. I found it a gripping read and ultimately quite devastating.

11/29/2021
Washington Black

Washington Black

Starting in the terrible plantation society of Barbados, this epic ride takes in the Arctic, London, Amsterdam and Morocco. It's an amazing journey at a great pace in great company and I loved every minute. A tour de force.

11/22/2021
Winter in Sokcho

Winter in Sokcho

I found this a quietly intense read. The cold, bleak realism of the out of season seaside town on the border of North and South Korea is the perfect setting for a disquieting exploration of identity. The young woman at the centre fights to see and be seen, working through the opposing pressures of modern and traditional societies; French and Korean culture; body image and desire. Beautiful, disturbing and very real.

11/15/2021
Paul

Paul

Taking inspiration from Gauguin's travel journal, Noa Noa, this dreamlike and unsettling novel puts a modern spin on an old story - a vulnerable young woman places her trust in a more worldly, controlling man. Frances's passive acceptance may test some readers, but this is an affecting book, full of powerful imagery and worth staying with all the way. One for the top of the TBR list!

11/8/2021
My Darling from the Lions

My Darling from the Lions

Fascinating poetry, full of grit and astute observation. Each poem has a vivid story to tell, sometimes funny, sometimes outrageous, always insightful and politically aware. You feel disarmed as the poems take stabs at life’s messy muddle and the evils of society. This is a razor-sharp collage enlightened with comedy and wide-awake reflection.

11/1/2021
Permafrost

Permafrost

A brisk novel that perfectly captures the essence and mood of a woman adrift, as she seeks solace in sexual encounters and thoughts of suicide. Moving between Barcelona, Belgium and Scotland, there is no real sense of place or plot, but a narrative - of family, love and societal expectations - that is intense, dark and acerbic. This is a short book with short chapters, yet at no point is the reader made to feel short-changed.

10/25/2021
Checkout 19

Checkout 19

This collection of auto-fictional anecdotes of growing up is narrated in a stream of consciousness, peppered with digressions and fascinating insights into the mundane realities of living, reminiscent of the Irish literary genre. The intimate writing style can become mesmerising, needing much concentration on the reader’s part, but it packs a strong emotional punch. In fact, I reckon it’s a fascinating way to getting inside another person’s mind.

10/18/2021
A Net for Small Fishes

A Net for Small Fishes

Set during a time when women had little or no agency, this story of an infamous scandal comes from the perspective of a woman who was involved. Jacobean London is vividly evoked in all its glitter and grime and Anne Turner, a compelling narrator, is portrayed without judgement. There's nothing like immersing yourself into another person's life, I was riveted from page one right to the bitter end - a treat for all fans of historical fiction.

10/11/2021
Love in Colour

Love in Colour

What a treat this book is - firecrackers of girl power across the ages! Inventive reworkings of myths from around the world, suffused with the power of female wisdom, along with a handful of the author’s own. Together with her notes on the origins and her inspirations, the hallmark is Babalola's personal inheritance of indominatable love. Great bedtime stuff but your light won't go out till you've finished that last tale!

10/4/2021
The Family Tree

The Family Tree

In just a moment life can change. In this inter-generational muslim family, fraught relationships and costly life choices eventually take their toll. Heartfelt and intense from the start, this story, un-flinching in the telling, balances the ordinariness of everyday life with the extraordinary and consequential effects of sudden loss. Snippets of humour blend with the backdrop of struggle in the hope of bringing love and truthful connection.

9/27/2021
Unsettled Ground

Unsettled Ground

Get ready for a deftly written story which dispels any illusion of a rural idyll. Focusing more on the folk than the flora and fauna - inadequate housing, lack of jobs and limited public transport are the reality. Beautiful, suspenseful and deeply moving, if like me, you are a reader who likes a book that grips whilst making you think, this is it.

9/20/2021
Hot Stew

Hot Stew

At its heart is the eviction of a group of female sex workers from their Soho brothel. Yet this multi-layered, multi-character story is far richer than its back page description suggests. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, the narrative threads slowly come together as each character's backstory is revealed. I was expecting a sex novel, but instead discovered a surprisingly opulent tale of friendship and courage rivalling bureaucratic greed.

9/13/2021
Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Memoirs of a Polar Bear

This is a book to take your time over and let yourself be consumed by the stories of three generations of polar bears, each of them living side by side with their human counterparts, fully co-existing in civilian life. The tale begins with the grandmother's experiences in the Soviet Union and as it evolves you'll become increasingly beguiled by its strange beauty, enhanced by a wonderful translation.

9/6/2021
Disappearing Earth

Disappearing Earth

Think of a flower: the stem is the crime of the abduction of two sisters and the petals are the lives of residents in the city of Petropavlovsk and town of Kamchatsky who are tentatively involved with the main story. It's written in such a way you feel you're snooping into the lives of others which I find a bit uncomfortable. But a very interesting concept with an intriguing ending - so hang on in there.

8/30/2021
Who They Was

Who They Was

Nineteen year old student Gabriel indulges in extreme violence and crime ‘just for the fun of it’. The prison scenes are particularly brutal. I found this a difficult read not just for the content, but also for the dialect used. Having said that, there are some beautiful descriptive passages. It is worth the effort required to enter this other world - if only for as long as it takes to read the book. A debut novel and an author to watch.

8/23/2021
The First Woman

The First Woman

Kirabo is part of the first generation to begin breaking free from a class system in which men have total dominance over women and children. In this coming-of-age novel, she is shocked to find her beloved grandfather has a secret past that she could never imagine. And who is her mother? At times funny, very moving and always loveable this story will find a place in your heart. I loved it.

8/16/2021
Citadel

Citadel

The lives of two very different women are captured in poetry form. Spanning five hundred years, the women are linked through verse as their stories play out in their respective homelands of England and Spain. Although the ambiguity of the verse made this an intellectually challenging read, it was nevertheless easy to enjoy the beautifully descriptive language of this collection.

8/9/2021
Baba Dunja’s Last Love

Baba Dunja’s Last Love

Even though I’m left with questions regarding plot and purpose I could only admire and love the main character, Baba Dunja, for her drive and determination to have her home in the place she loves the most. She creates an almost magical world in which the living and the dead are both real and seem to support each other. Mixed with humour and compassion it makes a very enjoyable read.

8/2/2021
If I Had Your Face

If I Had Your Face

For a woman of low status to survive in Seoul, the cultural norms dictate that their face must be their fortune. Like an ironic take on the tale of The Little Mermaid – exploitation and pressure to undergo painful cosmetic surgery follows. This bold chronicle of four women delivered an insightful and provocative look at the universal obsession with ‘looks’ and the objectification of women the world over. For me - a bleak yet compelling read.

7/26/2021
Little Blue Encyclopedia

Little Blue Encyclopedia

This story of a transwoman's grief for her friend, Vivian, is uniquely structured and unashamedly honest. Akin to a love letter, the grieving woman pays homage to Vivian through a series of encyclopedia entries based upon her favourite TV series. Through the narrator's writing, we learn about her life as a transwoman, as well as the colourful life led by Vivian. While loss is the backbone of the story, the author offers the reader so much more.

7/19/2021
How Beautiful We Were

How Beautiful We Were

What impressed me in this book were the different perspectives. They clarify the impact of an environmental disaster on ordinary African people: powerless children, wise elders and the generation of the girl Thula, that intends to take action. I didn’t feel uplifted after reading this, but moved, frustrated and angry at the American oil company that preys on the land and the villagers' homes, like a swarm of locusts on a wheatfield.